Faridkot: Dr Raj Bahadur, former Vice Chancellor of Faridkot’s Baba Farid University of Health Sciences (BFUHS), has been in the news after doctors and opposition parties in Punjab protested the treatment meted out to him by state health minister Chetan Singh Jouramajra.
On Friday afternoon, a video surfaced of AAP MLA Jouramajra – health minister in the Bhagwant Mann-led government – asking Dr Bahadur (71) to lay down on a dirty hospital bed during an ‘inspection’. Bahadur has since resigned as V-C of BFUHS.
Those accusing the minister of ‘misbehaving’ with Dr Bahadur cite the latter’s career spanning over four decades, adding that administrative issues are “systemic” in nature and must be addressed individually.
ThePrint reached Dr Raj Bahadur via call for a comment but did not receive a response. This report will be updated if and when a response is received.
Career spanning four decades
Dr Raj Bahadur started his career in 1976 as a house surgeon (Surgery) at Shimla’s HP Medical College & Snowdon hospital. He then moved to Banaras Hindu University in Varanasi where he worked as a resident-cum-clinical registrar.
In 2019, he was nominated by the central government to the then newly-constituted National Medical Commission (NMC) for a period of two years.
According to BFUHS, Dr Raj Bahadur has had stints as a surgeon and as a member of the administration with a number of institutions. These include the Kullu District hospital, Rohtak Medical College and Hospital, Chandigarh’s Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education & Research (PGIMER), Jawaharlal Institute of Postgraduate Medical Education & Research in Pondicherry, and New Delhi’s Safdarjung hospital.
He was brought in as the Vice Chancellor of Baba Farid University of Health Sciences (BFUHS) in Faridkot in 2014. This was a time when the university was in the news for lack of funds. His term as V-C was extended a second time in 2020 for three more years.
A source from BFUHS told ThePrint on condition of anonymity: “There were several protests during the 2012 to 2014 period when the establishment was going through funds issues. Salaries were not paid and the infrastructure was crumbling.
“The university was merely relying on reserve and emergency funds. At that time, Dr Bahadur had taken some strict steps like reducing bonuses and maintaining tight financial records.”
Just this year, the state government – after a gap of 11 years – hiked the annual grant to BFUHS to Rs 46 crore. But the source mentioned above claimed that “only Rs 4.76 crore and Rs 2.5 crores were disbursed for salaries last month”.
‘No way to behave with a doctor’
“Whether Dr Bahadur was a good administrator or not is a secondary aspect here since this is not the way any person should behave with a doctor,” said Dr Akhil Sarin of the Punjab Civil Medical Services Association (PCMSA).
Referring to the incident involving Dr Bahadur and the state health minister, he added that the former is a renowned surgeon and his work is “revered by many in the fraternity”.
“There could be administrative issues, no doubt, as they are more systemic in nature and we must look into them individually. It may be true that he never advocated enough perhaps but that is all our collective responsibility as well to ensure that we keep fighting for these systemic issues to stop,” Dr Sarin said.
His views were shared by Dr Paramjit Maan, secretary of the Indian Medical Association’s Punjab chapter.
“I don’t want to comment on the political aspects of the incident but we are certain that this behaviour was incorrect and uncalled for,” Dr Maan told ThePrint.
He added, “In my view, Dr Bahadur was an exceptional administrator as well who had good relations with every stakeholder as it should be.”
Dr Pyarelal Garg, former registrar of Baba Farid University of Health Sciences, said that the controversy has more layers than it seems. Garg has also served as an advisor to former Punjab Congress president Navjot Singh Sidhu.
“People may question Dr Bahadur since there have been allegations on how he was not able to improve the working conditions of the hospital. Neither did he advocate openly for increasing the number of beds. He also faced resistance from the employees for his tactics,” Dr Garg said.
He added that “one should remember that the focal point in every medical institution should be its patients and students”.
“If you are not able to cater to them, then there is no point in their existence in the first place. But despite all these arguments, it is essential to note that this was not the way in which a minister should have behaved with a senior doctor,” he said.
Explaining how the “extra drama could have been avoided”, Dr Garg added, “You may have issues with him but there is always a way to address them and protocols must also be followed. The minister should have sought the assistance of IAS officers who would have helped him understand the protocol and the chain of command.”
MLA who ‘stage managed’ controversy
Another aspect that has come to light is the role of AAP MLA from Jaitu, Amolak Singh, in the incident that took place at BFUHS Friday. Singh was among the AAP leaders accompanying health minister Jouramajra during the ‘inspection’.
In a video of the health minister’s visit, Singh can be seen beside Jouramajra, pointing at the state of the mattress on which Dr Bahadur was asked to lie down later.
While Amolak Singh has denied claims that he held a “personal grudge” against the veteran surgeon, it was Singh who had sought Dr Raj Bahadur’s removal in the previous session of the Punjab assembly.
ThePrint reached the MLA over call to seek his comments on the issue but received no response. This report will be updated if and when a response is received.
Meanwhile, opposition parties in Punjab have picked up on the issue to target the AAP government.
Dramatic scenes unfolded at Mohali where state Congress president Amarinder Singh Raja Warring reached out to Dr Bahadur to apologise “on behalf of everyone”.
I couldn't see eye to eye with Dr Raj Bahadur Ji, as there was helplessness in his eyes. It was not he who felt insulted and humiliated, but all of us together. Entire Punjab stands in solidarity with you, Sir. pic.twitter.com/CxPY2aU4Jp
— Amarinder Singh Raja Warring (@RajaBrar_INC) July 30, 2022
Akali Dal leader Sukhbir Singh Badal also attacked the AAP over the issue, accusing its ministers and MLAs of “abusing” their power to “belittle govt functionaries”.
AAP ministers & MLAs are routinely abusing their power to belittle govt functionaries as per directions of their “trainers” @ArvindKejriwal & @raghav_chadha. I request CM @BhagwantMann to rein in the criminal tendencies of his MLAs or be ready to face the wrath of Punjabis. 2/2.
— Sukhbir Singh Badal (@officeofssbadal) July 30, 2022
“The health minister does not even know the chain of command that exists in a public institution. He should be ashamed to have behaved in this manner,” Parambans Singh Romana, spokesperson for the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), told ThePrint.
He added, “With his [Dr Bahadur’s] experience and stature, he has maintained good relations with all political parties. Government establishments are not perfect but these conversations could have taken place in a different and in an educated manner.
“The AAP is desperate to prove to the public that they are working in the health and education sectors since those are the planks they had sought votes for. But they should at least educate their leaders about these basic issues.”
(Edited by Amrtansh Arora)